So Many Dynamos | Flashlights (Skrocki)

The album almost sounds like a live show, crushing through the speakers with relentless energy, yet mixed just right to weed out the imperfections.


There have been a good number of people on the fence about St. Louis' So Many Dynamos. Their first EP, Are We Not Drawn Onward to New Era?, was a showcase of both the high energy and the complex instrumentation that the band is known for and has earned them respect within in the "elite" indie rock community. While their first LP, When I Explode, had some highlights, the album unfortunately lacked any real direction and seemed to give the band less shape and an overall elusive identity. It appeared the band reached its peak early. With that said, here comes the band's second full length, Flashlights, to put that indie-rock foot back in its pompous mouth.

Recorded at Chris Deckard's acclaimed Radio Penny Studios, SMD have raised the production values of their latest record while still maintaining almost a low-fi quality that can only come from Deckard's studio. The album almost sounds like a live show, crushing through the speakers with relentless energy, yet mixed just right to weed out the imperfections. There's no doubt that SMD and Deckard are a perfect match, complementing each other's talents in the studio.

Flashlights features the works: a 30-person choir, banjos, horns, bells, slide guitar, even an accordion. This could have been overkill, but SMD makes sure the instruments are used appropriately and in timely situations (see "Search Party"). With "Home Is Where the Box Wine Is," the band weaves through the sonic oddities to present the coolest song about relationships in quite some time: all balls, no mush. For those who want to listen a bit closer, there is even a repeating motif in the first three songs. But I don't want to give it away.

It's too bad it's not all gravy. There are a couple disappointments on Flashlights that make my ears perk and force me to cough "bullshit" into my fist. Vocalist Aaron Stovall still can't sing and a majority of his vocals are reduced a kind of rhythmic talking. While his delivery is spot-on, it would be nice to hear some actual singing every now and again. It can be hard to listen to a band as good as SMD when the vocals are sub par.

Note: When writing this review, I really wanted to stay away from Dismemberment Plan comparisons. But… "How High the Moon" lyrically features an exploding moon and the scene of chaos on Earth that follows. There is a certain D-Plan song with a very similar theme called "8 and ½ Minutes." Then again, SMD have never been ashamed to show off their influences. The sad fact is, these kinds of things can really turn people off about bands, especially in an indie rock world where people are ready to hang bands for just about anything (thanks, Pitchfork!).

But I'm here to defend So Many Dynamos. It's time to leave comparisons and influences behind and let the music speak for the band. In that way, SMD have succeeded. Flashlights is their first great album from start to finish and gives hope that there is more to come.

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